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If you’re lucky enough to visit the Dominican Republic, chances are you’ll end at least one dinner with a shot of mamajuana. If you’re anything like us, the first time you’re offered this elixir, you’ll be very confused due to the similarity in name to marijuana. This concoction isn’t made from cannabis. The traditional Dominican drink is an infusion of aged rum, spices, roots, woods, dry leaves, and honey. “You’ll also typically find Brazilian wood, star anise, cinnamon, basil, princess vine, eucalyptus leaves, maguey leaves, among other ingredients,” says Danwel Olivo, Dominican Republic-born lead mixologist at Conrad Fort Lauderdale.
Centuries Of History
This is no new trend. The history of the drink can be traced back for more than 500 years. “Mamajuana was consumed by native Taínos before Christopher Columbus arrived at Hispaniola,” says Olivo. What began as a medicinal black tea later became an alcoholic beverage that is still enjoyed today. “It then evolved into a sweeter drink with the addition of molasses.”
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Like all herbal liqueurs, mamajuana is thought to have curative powers and they vary as much as the ingredients included inside. “It is said that mamajuana is a blood cleanser, sexual stimulant, liver and kidney cleanser, and aids with digestion and circulation,” says Olivo.
A Classic After-Dinner Drink
Typically consumed as a shot, mamajuana is best as an after-dinner digestif or a nightcap. “At Atlas Cocktail Lounge in Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach, we serve mamajuana to be consumed in sips rather than as a shot,” says Olivo. “We’ve added honey syrup, plum bitters, and a burnt lemon peel, and serve it over an ice square to be consumed as a cocktail.”
Mamajuana is one of the most complex drinks ever invented. “Every sip is an experience,” says Olivo. “Although it’s a strong drink, it’s also smooth.” It’s also the perfect drink for rum fans looking to try something a little different.
Mamajuana Arrives In Fort Lauderdale
“During Prohibition, Fort Lauderdale became a hot spot for those who were running alcohol into the United States,” says Olivo. Rum-runner Bill McCoy made his name in the city and became known for bringing the best and finest spirits from the Caribbean. “Why not introduce something authentic to the Caribbean for locals and travelers to experience in Fort Lauderdale today?”
Olivo gives his mamajuana a twist by adding dry fruits, more dry leaves, and removing some of the roots and woods to reduce its bitterness. “I made sure to keep the flavors and intensity consistent with that of the traditional mamajuana. It gives it a more pleasant texture, so you can sip and enjoy it instead of taking it in one shot.”
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So, if you get a chance to visit the Dominican Republic, don’t leave without trying this truly special drink (or try one of the brands or kits currently available in the U.S.). “Although it sounds like a complex and intimidating drink, it’s a must for those who like to experiment with new liquors and cocktails,” says Olivo. “You’ll experience a different taste in every sip and may even reap some of its health benefits.”